Our friend Niyi in New York, a guy we often feature in our Real People series, recently showed up on the New York Time’s fashion blog. Apparently he was at an apparel tradeshow in Paris, and spotted getting some lunch. As usual, he was also exceptionally well dressed.
Real People: Sport Coats with Jeans (Revisted)
StyleForum member Butler recently challenged other members to wear a sport coat with a pair of jeans and a tie. The thread for the challenge was titled “Train Wreck,” because, frankly, sport coats with jeans usually look like one.
Despite their popularity, this kind of combination is very difficult to pull off. Most of the time, it comes off as a sort of “sartorial mullet” - all dressy up top; casual down low. When it does work, it’s usually with a rough tweed of some kind (typically solid colored, speckled, or with a herringbone pattern) and almost always without a tie. Even still, when done well, this can look a bit affected.
One entry I did like, however, was by our friend Niyi in New York City. His approach is one that I think is a bit safer. Instead of thinking of jeans as a way of “dressing down a tailored jacket,” it’s often better to think of it completely outside the realm of traditional clothing. That is, don’t wear jackets or accessories that are meant for a classic coat and tie look. No matter how casual they are, they often look bad with jeans.
Rather, choose jackets that are truly, truly, truly casual.
When bloggers talk about casual jackets, they usually only mention something about a “soft shoulder,” but what makes a jacket casual is more than the shoulder line. There’s the fabric, the “stuffing” in the chest, and silhouette of the jacket itself. Look at Niyi’s jackets, for example. They don’t fit in a traditional way. The fronts are very open (so an unusual amount of shirt shows), the length is shorter, and the overall fit is a bit rumpled. These are not the kind of things you’d wear to an office.
In this way, the jacket looks as aged and casual as the jeans, and the dreaded “sartorial mullet” is avoided.
Of course, as with most true-blue casual clothing, it’s hard, if not impossible, to derive “rules” about what works and what doesn’t. My friend David, for example, wears traditionally cut tweeds with jeans, and I think he looks great. I’ve also long admired Hooman Majd’s sense of style. In general, however, the kind of jackets you’d wear with classic grey flannel trousers are usually not the kind that would work with jeans. And vice versa.
If you want to dress down a traditionally cut jacket, try wearing a pair of chinos. That’s usually much safer.
Real People: Dressing Down a Suit
Open any men’s fashion magazine nowadays and you can read about the 101 ways to dress down a suit. The problem is, the suit is more often than not a sober looking garment, so when you try to “dress it down,” it can be like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. A safer way to dress down a suit is to simply get a more casual suit. Instead of one made from a smooth, worsted wool, try something in cotton, linen, corduroy, or even tweed. That way, your suit is inherently more casual, and you won’t have to awkwardly try to pull back its formality with some unusual accessory.
That does require buying a separate suit for casual occasions, however, which can get expensive (especially once you factor in seasonal fabrics). If you want to try to dress down a standard business suit, try pairing one with a softly colored pastel shirt, perhaps something in pink, lavender, or sea green. Any of those will be more casual than your standard solid whites or light blues, and can help both soften the edge of a suit while also enlivening its look. If need be, you can dress it down further with some casual footwear, such as tassel loafers or something made from suede. Our friend Niyi in New York City shows how well can look above.
You can get pastel colored shirts at any number of places these days. Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers are good starts, so long as you stay away from the ones with embroidered logos. Our advertiser Ledbury has a lime green one in their “short run shirts” section until the end of today. If you want something custom made, I can recommend Ascot Chang. They have offices in New York City and Los Angeles, although they also tour throughout the United States to meet clients (I meet them in San Francisco twice a year). They do great work, but being bespoke, they are a bit pricey. For something more affordable, but custom, there’s Cottonwork and our advertiser Proper Cloth. For something affordable, but ready to wear, there’s TM Lewin and Thin Red Line.
Real People: Bold Dressers
I consider myself a fairly conservative dresser, but I don’t think one has to dress conservatively in order to look good. Niyi from New York is a perfect example. He has a very strong, bold sense of personal style. What he wears might not suit everyone, but it works excellently for him.
Pictured above are two of his recent summer ensembles. The first combines charcoal trousers with a tan sport coat (the best combination for charcoal trousers, in my opinion), and plays a bit with proportions. The jacket’s gorge is higher, lapels narrower, and collar points shorter. I’d normally think such proportions look affected on most guys, but Niyi carries it off here exceptionally well. I also like the soft fit of the jacket along the shoulder line, and think it helps him look natural and relaxed.
The second ensemble is deceptively more complicated than it seems. Here, Niyi is mixing four patterns without any of them clashing. There are the narrow stripes on the suit, the wider stripes on the shirt, the boldly patterned tie, and the complementary (but not matching) patterned pocket square. To go with the summery shirt and suit, he’s picked chestnut shoes instead of your regular dark brown. I think it looks fantastic.
Incidentally, like our friend Rob, Niyi is also putting together his own men’s accessories label. It’s called Post Imperial, and the two ties you see here are actually from his line. I’m told that the shell fabric is made of a cotton treated in “adire” – an old hand dying process developed by the Yoruba people in the southwest region of Nigeria. These ties will be available in Spring of 2014.